MY SPIDER and I get along pretty well. I can’t remember precisely when he came into my life. I think probably two or three years ago. When I first noticed him I meant to catch him and put him outside, but I never got round to it. Then I got used to him and he got used to me.
Spiders used to freak me out, especially Australian spiders. I grew up with daddy long leg spiders and they didn’t worry me. They’re spindly and insubstantial. My spider’s not like that. He’s about the size of a 20 cent piece, chunky, broad shouldered, a bruiser. And he’s black. Hard to miss.
My spider lives in the corner of the window above my desk. His web has expanded over the years until it now covers an area about 60 x 50 cms. It’s not a beautiful web. It’s higgledy-piggedly and full of stuff: fly carcases, blowfly wings, gnats, sandflies, dust. There’s a kind of funnel right in the corner that he goes in and out of. And he’s messy: the windowsill below is littered with wing bits and spider shit.
I watch the flies on my window pane getting closer to the web. Buzzing along full of the joys of spring and suddenly they’re stuck. There’s a tremendous buzzing as the distraught animal tries to get free. And then my spider, usually so slow, sprints through the funnel, grabs it, injects it with poison (I think) and darts straight back to his corner with the wounded paralysed fly. I harden my heart to the fly’s hopeless cries of terror.
I looked him up and I think he’s a black house spider. That doesn’t sound like a name to me, more like a description, but there you go. Wikipaedia has this to say:
Black house spiders (Badumna insignis) are venomous, but are not considered dangerous. They are timid and bites from them are infrequent.
The web of B. insignis is a messy-looking construct of irregular sail-like shapes. There is a funnel-shaped, silken retreat, usually in the middle or corner of the web, where the spider spends most of its time waiting for prey. The female spider never leaves the web unless forced to. They seem quite attached to their location, rarely changing the position of their webs and because of this, old webs can be quite messy, often with small objects or dust stuck in them. At night the spider comes out to repair and add to the web, often just adding new silk over the old.
About a month ago there was a complication. Some small black dots appeared in the corner of the web. Do spiders lay eggs? Back to Wikipaedia:
Males, when ready to mate, go in search of females. The male plucks the web of the female to attract her attention. Once the male has made sure that the female will be receptive, he will approach and inseminate her with his palps. They may then stay together for several days, and may mate again several times.
The female constructs several white silk egg sacs, which are secured within the web retreat. The female stays with the eggs until they hatch. The spiderlings then disperse. Occasionally the young spiders stay in the web of the mother for some time, catching the smaller prey that the larger spider would ignore.
It seems clear my spider is a she. Her mate lives somewhere else in my house and came courting. The sex must have happened while I was asleep. And now there are over 100 spiderlings about to be born and disperse in my house.
I’m fond of my big black spider but the thought of 100 big black spiders roaming my house is a little creepy. I wonder what to do. I think about nature with a capital N and my place in it. And the days go by.
On Sunday I look up and those dots are moving. The spiderlings have hatched. Catherine, you’re a bloody idiot. It’s one thing to remove eggs, another to remove babies. The window of opportunity has gone. But I’m an apex predator and I harden my heart. I get a stick. I’ll just take a corner of the web where the baby spiders are running around playing and laughing and I’ll put them outside, under the veranda, out of the rain. And then it will just be my spider and me again.
I put the stick in and pull a corner gently – and the whole web collapses and wraps itself around the stick, with not just the babies but my spider inside. It’s a horror story, like a magnitude 8 earthquake. There is no way of undoing the devastation. I take the tangled web outside and leave it hanging from a tree. My spider emerges. I can’t look at her.
But all week I’ve thought of her. I must have seemed to her like a jealous, vengeful god she never should have trusted.